“How many of you have personally been victimized by Regina George?”. The movie Mean Girls was onto something, Regina George’s character was simply a caricature of the modern-day bully. Just a few weeks ago I witnessed the “back to school” bliss on my timeline as I scrolled through my Instagram feed seeing kids iconic first day of school photos. While looking at those pics I couldn’t help but wonder out of those kids which ones would deal with bullying this school year. Being a new mom it’s frightening to know that one day my daughter will partake in the back to school festivities and will be in a classroom that may be susceptible to a bully. According to stopbullying.gov 49% of students in 4-12 grade reported being bullied with the most common form of bullying being verbal. To take it a step further 70% of students witness bullying while only 57% intervene. What can we do as a community to raise awareness of bullying and its negative emotional impact on students?
For starters, I believe it starts in the home. Children are impressionable beings and can emulate behaviors they see at home, on television, and on social media. An example is the viral fighting videos that circulate on social media. You often see bystanders recording those fights amongst students, but instead of speaking up they simply record while laughing in the background. Those same videos become viral memes that sweep the internet creating comedy at someone else’s dispense.
Back before social media became a phenomenon I dealt with public humiliation at school by way of a note. There was a time when I was a chubby little girl that went to a small private middle school and was subjected to bullying. I’ll never forget the bully that drew a picture of me with a t-shirt that said “I love BBQ” and passed it around the whole classroom for everyone to see. By the time the note got passed to me, I slumped down in my chair bright red and was embarrassed. I was the topic of many kids discussion being that I was heavier than other girls in my class. As a result of the constant insults, my grades dropped and my self-esteem took a dip. The taunting didn’t stop at school either. I was made a mockery at church during youth group by immature boys. There were even instances during family functions that some of my cousins would make fun of how much I ate. There wasn’t a time in the day that I wasn’t being made fun of. It got to the point where I’d come home in tears while my mom did the best she could to make me feel better. She’d often encourage me by saying “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”.
In fact, words do hurt, they sting and can make you feel as if you don’t belong. In middle school, no one should contemplate their place on earth, but I did. I was so tired of being bullied and shamed for being chubby that I took matters into my own hands. At 12 years old I started dieting, working out, and wearing all black to appear thinner. I’d even wear two sports bras to disguise my bust. When I started to slim down I’d talk about other students to avoid any negative attention being on me. Being bullied created a bully in me. It’s a nasty cycle, those that are made fun of make fun of others. Thankfully my catholic all-girls high school experience renewed my confidence, but years later I still remember the mean words of my middle school peers. I’m just thankful things got better. Sadly, for some students, the constant scrutiny can be so much of a burden that they take their own lives. It’s disheartening to know that things can get to that point.
I said all that to say the cycle has to be broken. Recently, a family member started a new school and has been being made fun of for their weight. Their story reminded me of my own personal experience of childhood bullying. This is what has reignited my passion for creating awareness of bullying and its effects on a student’s mental health. Compared to my middle school days students now have to worry about cyberbullying as well. So, the next time you see a video or meme circulating the web of a child being fought or made fun of don’t repost it. Remember sticks and stones may break their bones but words do have the power to hurt them. Words that our negative have the power to haunt you, so speak life to one another. In doing so you could save a life.